Hft | News | Valuable lessons learnt during two years of volunteering

Valerie Healy, Hft’s PR & Digital Communications Officer, may be an Irish girl at heart but she’s certainly made Hft her second home – and that was even before she joined the charity as a full-time staff member!

For Valerie volunteered at Apsley House in Bristol for two years before she joined the external communications team where a big part of her role now is to amplify the voices of the people we support and to champion their rights as equals.

Valerie moved to the UK in 2013 to work in in the arts and media sector. She had some experience of volunteering with people with learning disabilities in her home town of Cork and found she really enjoyed it. Once she got settled in her new home, she found she had some spare time so she looked into doing something similar.

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She saw an advert for volunteers for Hft, so started to visit people supported at Apsley House and, over time, got to know all the people there. “They were such a great bunch, and I got to concentrate on the more social side of support, like going on outings, arts and crafts, and supporting people to engage in the things they were interested in,” she explains. 

Unfortunately, like many things during the pandemic, this volunteering ended abruptly when she was unable to visit anymore due to restrictions. As she says, the pandemic was particularly difficult for people with learning disabilities and autism, as the change in routine was very sudden and even frightening for some people. “I’m in awe of all the work carried out by support workers and everyone who worked in the care sector during that time, doing their best under such difficult circumstances to make sure everyone was taken care of,” she says.

“I think the pandemic gave everyone a chance to really think about their lives and what was important. I realised that I wanted to do something different and was ready to move to another job. When I saw the advert for a job at Hft, I knew it was for me. The fact that I had volunteered for the charity was definitely an advantage because it gave me a good understanding of how Hft worked and I was able to bring my knowledge of life on the services side into my new role.”

Valerie, now living in Bath, is involved in different areas of communicating what the charity does through channels such as PR activities and social media.  A big part of her job is to share the achievements of the people we support and she loves to celebrate when a person we support reaches a goal.

“To you or me, it might be something small, like getting on a bus alone for the first time, or shopping for and cooking their own meal, but it can take a lot of planning and confidence for a person with a learning disability.  I think creating awareness and education by positive representation is really important.”

She would encourage anyone wanting to volunteer to go for it, saying it’s an amazing thing to do because every day is different and you will learn something new each time.

“I learned how to listen, how to communicate, and how to allow time and space for people who need it. I would be lying if I said it was never challenging, but it’s definitely worth it,” Valerie says.

If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering at Hft, take a look at our Volunteering at Hft information.